In reversal, Egypt allows some foreign activists to enter Gaza

Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries had gathered in Cairo since Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the Gaza war. Egypt says about 100 will be allowed to march into the Gaza Strip.

By , Reuters

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    A Gaza Freedom March activist chants slogans in front of Egyptian riot police during a protest at the center of Cairo, Egypt Thursday.
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Egypt has allowed 84 pro-Palestinian foreign activists to march to Gaza, which is under an Israeli-led blockade, an Egyptian official in the North Sinai governorate said.

Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries had gathered in Cairo since Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the Israeli three-week offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Egypt said 100 activists would be allowed to pass through.

"Egyptian authorities made an exception and opened the Rafah border on Wednesday and allowed activists from the Gaza Freedom March to pass through," Alhamy Aref, secretary-general of the North Sinai governorate, said.

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The activists, several hundred of whom were from France, had asked Egypt for permission to cross into Gaza but the Interior Ministry said the march was illegal and a threat to national security.

The group has staged protests almost daily since Sunday in different parts of Egypt, surrounded by a heavy police presence. Such demonstrations are rare in Egypt but no violence broke out and no arrests were made, witnesses and security officials said.

Israel controls the air space, sea access, and most of the entry points into the coastal enclave of Gaza.

Egypt controls the Rafah border, imposing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and some foreigners. It is also building a controversial steel wall along its Gaza border to prevent smuggling.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended since the December start of the Gaza war, in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to visit the region in January for a fresh push to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But months of Mitchell’s shuttling between the sides yielded no concrete signs of progress in 2009.

Egypt has been hosting talks with different Palestinian political groups to end internal disputes, mainly between the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Egypt and Germany have also been mediating a possible prisoner exchange by Hamas and Israel.

Egypt has agreed to allow a food and supplies convoy led by independent British Member of Parliament George Galloway to pass into Gaza, but only if it lands by sea at Arish and passes through Rafah.

The convoy was docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba all last week seeking approval from Egypt to enter via Nuweiba on the Red Sea.

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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